Author: willec96

My July To-Do List (in February)

Back in July, I posted my To-Do List – let’s take a quick look:

1) Complete Thesis Introduction: Well… that was optimistic, to say the least. The introduction certainly took the longest time to complete as Vicki (my advisor) gave it the “all-clear” two weeks ago. The hardest challenge with the writing process has been the massive amounts of self-editing that I can’t seem to silence, if only to just get words on a page. If it’s not perfect the first time, I scrap it completely — admittedly, a bad habit that I need to break soon. I’m barreling through my Methods and Results section because my data analysis is going rather well. We’re seeing preliminary results that look promising, so I might have something worth publishing come May!!

2.) Take an MCAT Practice Exam Every Week: Never again. Glad that’s over.

3.) Maintain a passing grade in 15-110: Got an A – still god-awful at computer science. (Bonus round: I also took an introductory course on R because I like torturing myself)

4.) Catch at least 90% of Pokemon in the National Pokedex: I don’t think I’m quite at 90% but I’m very close. I’ve started playing more video games in my free time because I haven’t done a great job of relaxing the last few months.

5.) Find a new show on Netflix or Hulu: How about 5 shows? Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Big Mouth, South Park, Survivor and The Good Doctor.

6.) Be a better Yinzer: The MCAT sucks — that is all.

7.) Decorate my Fall 2018 room: 3 tapestries, 3 flags, 2 mini-fridges and far too much laundry strewn across the floors.

8.) Breathe and Be Patient: I’ve done my best. Senior year is such a rush and I’ve spent more time listening this semester, which is very new to me. I certainly feel more stressed because of the looming deadlines and lack of certainty regarding my internship this summer but refocusing has never been a problem this year and I’ve been very grateful for that.


Days until Thesis is Due: 60

Days until Graduation: 86

Days until I lose my mind: -3


Pittsburgh “Humidity” (Redux)

It’s gotten hotter in Pittsburgh in the last couple days and once again, my friends are complaining about the so-called “humidity” here. It takes everything in my being to tell them to visit, but ironically, I haven’t even been back in almost a year, so how would I even know what that humidity feels like? Nevertheless, I find myself missing summers at home less and less, simply because as I’m growing older and becoming more involved in research at CMU—or perhaps this is an offshoot of spending a summer where 100% humidity and 90+ degree weather is not a commonplace. Even when I return in the wintertime, it feels like I’m walking into a sauna, so maybe I’ve just gotten weak?

So despite the heat wave, my summer is still chugging along. Our final presentations for our summer work were last week and while I know it wasn’t my strongest showing in a presentation, it was still helpful to learn more about the quirks of explaining my research to a non-expert audience. This past semester, I had the privilege to compete in the Sigma Xi competition during Meeting of the Minds and my other research focus (communal coping) was far easier to communicate than my current project (unmitigated communion). Oddly enough, I find unmitigated communion far more interesting, so I guess it’s unsurprising that more exciting concepts are sometimes the hardest to communicate. Whether that be from enthusiasm or just sheer complexity, I’m not sure; however, I know that I found myself having a lot to say, not enough time to say it, and not the right words to say it all—yet.

Essentially, this summer has been all about learning and that’s been a new feeling—I enjoy feeling like the only tasks for the entire summer have been to work on my thesis. While every step has not been perfect, it’s been nice to reflect on all of my progress and goal accomplishment thus far:

  • Completion of Former UC Research Study. This project was started back during sophomore and was concerned with motivations behind helping behavior. Data analysis yielded some interesting results and I have another poster out of the work, so I can’t complain. It was my first study in my lab, so it’s also a tad sentimental!
  • All IRB’s are Approved! Wow, this one was a doozy. The IRB is quite the juggernaut for research ethics and each time I’d get an email, I’d hold my breath until I knew my study wasn’t getting cancelled for an out-of-place period or exclamation mark.
  • Self-Designed Studies. This is the first real project where I’ve taken an independent methodological approach; sure, there have been other solo projects I’ve worked on in my lab, but this is the first where I get to hand pick questionnaires and tasks and work out the nitty-gritty of the study. It’s definitely exciting and I look forward to future work like this!

So with this, it’s the end of my summer as the Fall 2018 semester barrels forward. My MCAT is in four weeks, my senior year starts in three weeks, and I’m more than ready for all of it.

My July To-Do List

  1. Complete Thesis Introduction. Thanks to my advisor, Vicki Helgeson, this has been my number one goal for the last two weeks. She’s been extremely encouraging and supportive throughout this whole process and she really believes that getting a head-start on writing the thesis will save precious time in the spring when senioritis will most certainly kick in. As of now, I have a new draft of my goals and hypotheses for my study, with an outline of the section coming soon!
  2. Take an MCAT Practice Exam Every Week. I’m now less than two months away from my exam and it’s getting closer to crunch time. Upon suggestion from current medical students, practicing often and frequently with official material is better than keeping my nose in the books. I’m sitting at a nice place right now with my practice tests thus far, but there is always room for improvement.
  3. Maintain a passing grade in 15-110. Wow, I finally found my worst subject. For a while it was statistics and then it was physics and now the clear frontrunner is computer science—in a word, I’m dreadfully slow at working through these problems and coding is literally like learning a new language. If anyone asks if I plan on taking 15-112, my answer will be a quick “NOPE.”
  4. Catch at least 90% of Pokemon in the National Pokedex. We all need relaxing activities when stressed—but this has been a big goal of mine since I was 7, so let me live!
  5. Find a new show on Netflix or Hulu. I just finished Parks and Recreation, and I’ve been an emotional wreck for the last two weeks, but everyone knows it takes me days to get hooked on a new show (for reference it took me two months to finish one season of The Office). Here’s hoping I don’t take 13 years to finish my next series.
  6. Be a better Yinzer. Much of my summer has been spent indoors, largely due to restrictions beyond my control, but I’m itching to go to Pirates games and Kennywood and explore more of the city on weekends. After this Friday, I’ll have a better idea of how frequently I can use my weekends to explore and I couldn’t be happier—I’m tired of being cooped up inside all weekend!
  7. Decorate my fall 2018 room. My classic formula includes far too many flags and tapestries, with a hint of too many mini-fridges.
  8. Breathe and Be Patient. Simple as that. Summer’s coming to an end quickly and senior year will be here soon enough. Good things are on the way and come to those who wait.



Balancing Act


I’m incredibly lucky to have a flexible schedule this summer. I’ve been working since spring finals concluded, but the extended time spent doing research allows me to pick my hours and avoid the monotony of a 9-5 job. However, much of my “free time” this summer has been spent preparing for the MCAT. Despite my test date being a little over 2 months away, the MCAT requires a large amount of preparation and studying for one of the most impactful exams of my career is certainly daunting. My typical day usually consists of 3-5 hours of research, lunch, MCAT studying, dinner, Netflix and video games. The order often switches around; however, most people ask when I’ll be travelling or spending time in the city—in reality, my schedule’s already pre-determined, so the most amount of flexibility I get is picking what movie to watch or video game to play as I relax in the late evening. For many, this rigid schedule may be off-putting. In fact, I think an overwhelming majority of people would hate this schedule. However, I see it as somewhat of a workout regimen—granted, it’s for my brain and the only physical result you could see is a number at the very end—but nonetheless, it’s kept me vigilant about setting aside time to focus on the MCAT.


More importantly, this summer is about exploring the concept of balance. In my fraternity, one of our central principles lies in that of being a balanced man; notably, this concept focuses on three major domains of physical health, mental health, and social/emotional health. For much of my time in my fraternity, I’ve had a very large emphasis on mental and social/emotional health—often neglecting the physical health domain. Admittedly, this upcoming year will be more dedicated to that domain, while this summer is clearly just focused on furthering my career as a physician. Nevertheless, my fraternity brothers have been a very strong support system throughout my time at CMU, so having the fortune of living with them and handling all of the insanity that CMU has to offer has been incredibly reassuring.

As for the actual studying schedule, it’s been quite…rough. I have this idealized schedule brewing in my Google Drive for months, but now that the time for studying has come upon me, it’s been far more variable than I expected. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the following realizations:

  • For starters, I’m terrible at Biochemistry, not Biology. For ycrouch-3ears, Biology (ortheumbrella thereof) has always been my weakest subject. Lo, and behold, it turnsoutthat Biochemistry is my worst enemy and I hate it immensely. MCAT Biology (which should really be called “Physiology with a side of Cells”) has been a relatively nice journey, exceeding my initial expectations of Biology ruining my life.
  • The YouTube channel Crash Course is my most-watched channel for the last month. Thank you Hank Green and John Green—you’re angels.
  • My quality of studying depends on music. Shawn Mendes, Sia, James Bay, Ben Rector? Great. Broadway show tunes? Oops, I just lost five hours (Sorry Hamilton).crouch-4
  • Pentel Energel (0.7 mm) pens are the only pens worth using. Pilot G2 pens havebeen officially replaced.
  • The Psychology/Sociology section is a godsend. I’m counting my stars for this section, because it’s the only area where I feel confident two months out from my exam. Physics and Chemistry? That’s a different story…


Third Time’s the Charm!

When people talk about Pittsburgh’s humidity, I can’t help but laugh internally because clearly these Yinzers have never traveled down south. I’m originally from Georgia, so the “humidity” that everyone seems to be stressing about doesn’t faze me in the slightest. I’ve stayed in Pittsburgh for the summer since enrolling at CMU and the city never disappoints. As a result, I couldn’t be more excited to begin working on my Dietrich senior honors thesis and have the opportunity to spend my summer in Pittsburgh once again.

I study Neuroscience and Psychology on the pre-med track, but my typical introduction just focuses on my interests in gender, personality, and health so I often just skip over the formal degree titles. I prefer focusing on my research (compared to my majors) because I can always feel my eyes light up when I talk about communal coping, unmitigated communion, and gender’s impact on health. As a freshman, I never expected to be heavily involved in research—in hindsight, as a pre-med student, that’s such a rookie mistake—but I’ve really become involved in Dr. Vicki Helgeson’s lab where my interest in research has flourished.

Generally, my Dietrich honors thesis focuses on unmitigated communion (UC), a personality trait that results in individual’s having an excessive need to help others with their problems, often to the detriment of their own problems. Individuals high in UC experience distress—whether that be anger, anxiety, or depression—when they are unable to help their network members. Additionally, they may also experience distress when receiving support, rather than giving support to others; however, the development of distress in this case is more ambiguous. Therefore, one goal of my summer research is developing further knowledge on the development of psychological distress in UC individuals.

My research will also delve into the importance of intimate relationships, such as relationships with family members, close friends, and romantic partners. Intimate relationships (or the lack thereof) may demonstrate a moderating effect on the development of distress, possibly increasing feelings of happiness during scenarios in which UC individuals can help, but also increase negative emotions when receiving help because the UC individual feels burdensome or helpless.

In a word, I’m excited. Excited for the summer, excited for the upcoming year of thesis work, and excited for senior year that’s been rapidly approaching since the Fall 2015 semester.